Leaders show the way! That is what the word means. It’s an Old Norse word – ‘show the way’. Today’s leaders might not actually steer an open boat rowed by their crew to seek out and colonize new lands. But they do the modern-day equivalent – they steer a project, a department, or a whole corporation (staffed by a ‘crew’), and they achieve business goals instead of getting to new geographical destinations.
Leif Erikson planned the journey that took him to Vinland. He shared his ideas, motivated his crew to keep rowing through good days and stormy days, days when they knew where they were, and days when they were literally lost at sea. And they got to Vinland – what we call North America.
He did not continually pick up other men’s oars and take over the rowing to help the boat go faster, he did not hog the lodestone compass and do all the navigating, neither did he haul up the sail when the wind was fair or take it down when it was not. We know Leif Erikson’s name, today – we do not know the name of the hardest-working crew member who went with him.
So What Do Leaders Do?
There are relatively few critical responsibilities that leaders focus on. They then break each one down into elements, and spend time on those elements – that’s their work. And they get others to do the other work. How well the team members do their work, and how willingly they take on additional or different tasks in order to ‘get the job done’ is how leaders are measured – both by the team and by outsiders. Here, in a nutshell, is what leaders focus on:-
Create and Communicate a Compelling Vision
Leaders must know what they want to achieve and be able to explain and describe the purpose and value of achieving it. Leaders must share the vision, its purpose and value – value to the organization, the client, the marketplace – and to the team members – of succeeding. The leader must be able to describe in enough detail what it will be like when the result is achieved, so the team buys into the vision, as well.
Some results will be practical and easily measurable. Some will be less so – success will affect ‘the sense of team’, it will enable individuals to gain new knowledge and develop new skills. It will impact their experience and competences in ways that make them more valuable to the team, to the organization, and to their own career paths.
That is what leaders focus on. They also draw ideas, worries, future obstacles, etc. out of the team. They do that after the team has bought into the idea of the results and the path (the knowledge, skills, resources, and experience) they will take to get there.
The leader can then spend time working to remove those future obstacles, coaching the team, and the individuals who need it, on the skills and tasks where they need to improve. The leader works with the team to review progress, gets the team members’ take on progress, and measures that progress. The leader also keeps the team up to date on things so they can make their own individual decisions about their own tasks.
Too Busy to Be a Workaholic
To achieve in all those areas, leaders must use their own time effectively – doing what the team cannot do, so the team can do it better. That is why a great leader is not a workaholic; they don’t have time! Workaholics get lost in ‘doing it’ while leaders keep showing the way forward – so no one gets lost. Or, if the way is blocked, the leader works on removing the blockage, so the team can keep ‘pulling on those oars’. The team must make best use of their own knowledge and skills to get the ship to the new shore.